President Hamid Karzai’s admission that he’s the recipient of bagfuls of Iranian cash falls into the “you can’t make this stuff up” category. To be sure, rumors of Iranian influence on this or that Afghan politician have been a staple for years. Just about any Afghan will give you his list of members of Parliament who are in the Iranian bag (and the Russian bag and the Pakistani and the Saudi). Members of Parliament have complained to me that they favor the U.S. but we’re the only ones not offering help. President Karzai is a bit different. If any further proof were needed of the utter venality of this president, this is it.
On the bright side, the Iranian money probably doesn’t influence Mr. Karzai’s policy or Afghan actions any more than, say, our money does. The Afghan president has always had a “strategy of tactics,” playing one powerbroker off against another to make sure he stays afloat. To paraphrase a famous Rumsfeldism, if you don’t have any vision for the direction of your country, it’s easy to lead it.
Mr. Karzai’s tactical rather than strategic focus allows him to take money from all and give value to none. If the Iranians want to follow our example and waste money trying to influence Mr. Karzai, that’s their mistake.
The bogyman of Iranian influence in Afghanistan is overhyped. The Iranians have every interest in a relatively stable neighbor. The last thing they want is yet more dirt-poor, unskilled Afghan refugees landing on their doorstep; they’ve spent much of the last eight years trying to get rid of those who are there. Why would it be in their interest to have hundreds of thousands of foreign troops just across a largely unpoliced border? Perhaps they think that paying off Mr. Karzai will speed our exit.